If you’re a cabinet minister, you get used to playing the partisan game of bob and weave at parliamentary committees. Maybe Liberal ministers are having a hard time understanding that the committee reviewing the use of the Emergencies Act isn’t the same thing.
So somebody – specifically somebody named Justin Trudeau – should be telling them in loud clear terms: This is different.
It’s different because the executive, Mr. Trudeau‘s cabinet, has a duty to give an accounting for taking an extraordinary step and creating special state powers. It’s not just another a game of avoiding giving the opposition any wins, because the government has an obligation to show Parliament it met the high standard for using the act – that there was no other law that could do the job.
Yet it is not just Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino who fell short of that duty when he misled Canadians by saying police forces asked the government to invoke the Emergencies Act.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, the government’s lead player in imposing emergency economic measures that included the warrantless freezing of bank accounts, did a lot of ducking and dodging Tuesday night at hearings of the special committee reviewing the use of the Emergencies Act. And Mr. Trudeau’s ministers have for the most part treated the hearings as though their job is to get through it without giving too much information.
We should expect the government to be rushing to tell us more. There was an emergency, that’s for sure. Convoys had blockaded border crossings and Ottawa’s downtown. Police couldn’t move trucks parked for weeks on Wellington St. in front of Parliament, we have been told, because tow-truck drivers faced death threats.
What we need to know is whether there was really nothing else that could have been done other than imposing the Emergencies Act. And instead of providing details of what was considered, or notes from briefings, or even a minister telling us in detail how they arrived at the conclusion that there was no other option, we heard vague assurances.
Mr. Mendicino was doing just that when he said repeatedly in recent months that police had asked government to invoke the law. That wasn’t true – and the statement that might still cost the up-and-coming minister his political future. As Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said Tuesday, the police had expressed a desire for more tools, but didn’t ask for the use of the legislation. Mr. Mendicino’s claim can only have been designed to deflect questions about why the government decided to do so.
On Tuesday night, Ms. Freeland showed everyone that you can deflect questions just by ducking them.
Senator Claude Carignan, for example, repeatedly asked if U.S. officials had offered to send tow trucks – relevant because one reason cited for the need for emergency powers was so tow-truck operators could be ordered to clear vehicles. New Democrat MP Matthew Green asked Ms. Freeland over and over again if she took notes of her conversations with bank chief executives about account freezes. No answer. Bloc Québécois MP Rhéal Fortin got nowhere asking the Deputy Prime Minister what was tried before resorting to the act.
“We require information, documents, not figure skating performances,” Mr. Fortin said.
To be fair, it’s okay if some of the documents sought don’t actually exist. Ms. Freeland never answered whether Finance Canada had figures on the economic impact of the blockades, but her testimony that the impact was large, and potentially ruinous if the blockades continued, seems obvious enough that no one should contest it. Still, when MPs ask if there are figures, they should get an answer.
Mr. Blair, testifying after Ms. Freeland, was a little more forthcoming. He talked about his conversations with police chiefs about the difficulty getting tow trucks or the need to designate certain protected places. He argued that invoking the act also provided protection against blockades popping up again at border crossings.
It was almost as if Mr. Blair was doing a little to explain the government’s decision and make a case for how it was made. Almost. It’s too bad the Liberal cabinet doesn’t seem to know that the onus is on them to make that case.
They can’t just tell Canadians that the Emergencies Act was necessary – they have to show them.
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